Growing up in a planned community on the edge of Osaka, Japan, Akihisa Hirata dreamed of becoming either a biologist or an architect. By designing buildings inspired by smoke, bubbles, and other natural phenomena, you could say that he found a way to do both. What drives Hirata, however, is not purely an academic pursuit. Nor is it aesthetics. Instead, Hirata is searching for a conceptual grounding that engages the public. “Japanese architecture has become very extreme and lost its connection to society,” explains Hirata. “The problem facing my generation is reconstructing that relationship.”
Having received his master’s in architecture from Kyoto University in 1995, Hirata came of age architecturally when Japan was still reeling from the Great Hanshin earthquake in Kobe (just 19 miles from Osaka) and the sarin gas attack in Tokyo, when the morale countrywide was low. Against this gloomy backdrop, Toyo Ito introduced his competition-winning scheme for the Sendai Mediatheque, an entirely new type of public space defined by webbed steel columns that tilt like seaweed underwater. “I was shocked by the model photo,” exclaims Hirata. “It showed something very brilliant.” His spirits lifted by Mediatheque’s inspirational scheme, Hirata headed to Tokyo, where he hoped to join Ito’s staff. Though Hirata only intended to stay for a short stint, he remained for eight years before leaving to launch his own practice.